My Favorite Book Covers: ‘The Marauders’ Island’ (Hen & Chick #1) by Tristan J. Tarwater

Under lock down during the COVID-19 crisis, I have been doing a LOT of reading. In the midst of all the reading I’ve been doing, I started giving serious thought to the book covers, the illustrations and text that give us the very, first visual look into the books we read. Yes, yes, you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover — unless that cover is American Dirt, of course. I’m starting up a new series here on Medium on the book covers that I love — my favorites of all time.

I will be writing about all the gems — the covers of books that are so striking that they add to the reading experience. If you weren’t sure before, most, if not all these books featured are going to be by writers from marginalized backgrounds with a good chunk of them being folks of color and women. If that is not your cup of tea, feel free to jump ship now and find something else to read. For those still reading, you’re here for this journey so without further ado, let’s set sail with The Marauders’ Island’ (Hen & Chick #1) by Tristan J. Tarwater!

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A worthy read that was birthed during the #WeNeedMoreDiverseBooks movement, I knew I wanted to read Tarwater’s newest offering as I had been following them on Twitter for a minute. As an avid reader I was looking for something new to read, something new to fangirl over and something new to recommend. Finding a newer writer on my radar to champion? That was fine by me too! I had dipped into reading more speculative fiction and more of it written by folks who looked like me. More fantasy! More sci-fiction! You name it! When I look back, one sentence that captured my attention the most from the author was this one: ”I didn’t want to do another fantasy story full of European backdrops and orphans.”

Synopsis: “Azria is a mage of Miz, trained to wield the magic her country is famous for. When her estranged mother, alleged pirate Captain Apzana of the Hen & Chick, shows up on her 16th birthday offering her adventure, Azria leaves the life she knows for the promise of riches, renown and danger at her mother’s side.

But more mysteries than answers surface when Apzana reveals why she’s called on Azria after years of absence: the treasure of the Marauders’ Island, an island sunk into the Sapphire Sea generations ago by the infamous mage Iyzani.

If Azria can raise the island, the score of a thousand shores will be theirs for the taking and she’ll secure her place among her mother’s crew. But when Iyzani emerges from the shadows to stop them, Azria must summon her power and navigate the waters of revenge and ambition.”

Seeing visually brown women on a book cover always hits differently and I LOVE Louis’ art. Louis, a freelance comic artist and illustrator best known for her Agents of The Realm webcomic has worked to place visuals of women and folks of color at the forefront of her projects: I love seeing braids, locs, full lips, broad noses, curly hair and black and brown skin tones in the characters she brings to life. There’s no second guessing their brown skin here as illuminated by the magic in Azria’s hand.

Louis has artfully cast shadows on the two women and their clothes flutter in the wind as if a ocean breeze has ruffled them. The two look at the reader, they are locked in movements of action — Azria with one hand out, a spell already forming. Mama Dukes Azpana with her sword out in hand, her gold bangles and necklaces, moving with her. Ready for a fight, ready to take on the world. There’s a sense of immediacy here. There’s a feeling of intimacy even before you get to open up the book and read about these bold women.

In regards to the superb cover, that’s the touch of Mel Ujimori, a Japanese-Okinawan graphic designer, comic letterer, illustrator. Her Midas touch is responsible for not only the cover design but the Hen and Chick logo which are a marriage made in heaven. It is all just a great compliment to Louis’ art: the flowing scroll that makes up the logo looks regal and its color helps the font pop!

…the flowing scroll that makes up the logo looks regal and its color helps the font pop! The font stands strong and looks right at home, very much looking much words yone might find on a pirate’s treasure map or a long lost manuscript. The golden color of the scroll paired with the blue of the pattern that looks like distant waves or lines in the sand creates a majestic combination.

I also really love the golden circle that seems to frame the two characters yet even as they threaten to step out of it — almost insinuating that their story is too big to be contained. And in a sense, it is. On the back, another golden circle frames the synopsis and features a quick peek at the sea with a brilliant blue, clear sky with fluffy clouds. Overall, beautiful work that helps elevate the visual look of this fictional narrative.

Portand based chrisanthropic studios is a self professed tinkerer / semi-professional amateur thing doer who is credited here for the book layout. Gifted with knowing how to bring about eBook layout, design, and creation, the work here isn’t always something regularly noticed at first glance and appreciated and that goes for Ujimori’s work as well.

What is as clear as any day at sea is that this work is important and necessary. It all works together to birth a product that hopefully makes a book that draws in a reader. Here, this talented team of creatives did just that — a true testament of collaborative work that shines!

(Left) Mildred Louis’ Cover for the episodic chapters of the book that were digitally released before the manuscript was complete with chrisanthropic studios formatting the layout. (right) cover used for the audiobook.

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From the first chapter, Tarwater paints a descriptive tale where you can almost smell the seawater from the beach’s dock, taste the five spice stew and crab salad, reach out and grab out and hold the heavy gold coins falling out the treasure chest. The pacing works-there’s never a chapter that feels too drawn out. The cast of major and minor characters all feel familiar, like family and there’s never a dull moment with them.

Azria enters a world with a tragedy involving her family that has shaped the world as everyone knows it. She gets sucked into a world where there is magic beyond her wildest dreams — magic that can move mountains and deal fatal blows. Azria finds that the world is bigger than she had ever thought and she has a place in it if only she be bold and step up to the challenge.

From an Interview I did with writer Tarwater, they elaborated on the fantasy genre and how girls and families are so often portrayed: “And I wanted to tell a mother-daughter story because I don’t see them a lot. There are so many dead moms in fiction, especially fantasy fiction! And a lot of crappy step mothers. Dead moms are one of those easy outs as to why a character is messed up or sad, with no regard to the mothers themselves and how screwed up that is, as a portrayal of children from single family households.”

As someone who has catered my reading taste to include much of the fantasy genre what the author mentioned above is one of my biggest gripes in the genre (and so much of storytelling — this happens in children’s media too) that is still very much present today. Yet also as someone who has read this book, I can note that the relationship between mother and daughter set on the seas was one of my favorite threads woven throughout the plot of the book itself.

Young Azria is finding her way, becoming more than she ever thought, dreamed possible — the relationship with her mother is ever changing and it is a treat to read and be along the ride for. Ultimately, The Marauders’ Island is a beautiful ode to mother and daughter relationships.

The fact that the book’s cover is a solid clue of the journey to be taken and, is visually appealing to look at, cements it as one of my favorite book covers. Period. I think that so often we see a novel on display and don’t immediately string together all the work that helped create it. Not just the author, editors and the different hands it gets passed through in the publishing industry and to that end — I’m considering both self publishers and folks who sign deals with publishing companies.

In the visual sense, book covers are important and usually not just the work of one person. Usually a collection of talents and skills are on the table when creating one and getting to that final product of all things tied together: illustrations, font, color, formatting, kerning and tracking and the like is busy work.

Tristan J. Tarwater’s The Marauders’ Island’ (Hen & Chick #1) is an extraordinary example of a book cover done right with all the best folks involved. Looking at the book placed on my book shelf has inspired me to do a reread! I am ready to book passage on the Hen & Chick ship and enjoy the ride once more!

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Tristan J. Tarwater is a writer of novels, comics and RPG bits. Their titles include The Valley of Ten Crescents series, Hen & Chick: The Marauders’ Island, Shamsee and more. They have also freelanced for Onyx Path, Pelgrane Press and contributed comics to the Ignatz and Eisner award winning comics anthology, ‘ELEMENTS: Fire’ as well as LionForge’s ‘Puerto Rico Strong.’

An advocate for better representation in media, Tristan created the #LatinxsCreate hashtag in 2016, which features many amazing illustrators, writers and more.Born and raised in New York City, they now consider Portland, OR their home. They live there with their spouse, Small Boss, and two cats, all of whom are dope. They contributed to several projects since this book was published up like penning comics about Harriet Tubman featured on The Nib. See more of them online and on Twitter.

Carrie is a writer, editor & media Scholar with an affinity for red lipstick living in California. She writes about literature, art, cinema & amazing women here on Medium. See more of her online on Twitter and Instagram!

⭐️ Writer, Editor & Media Scholar with an affinity for red lipstick living in California. Writes about literature, art, cinema & amazing women. ⭐️

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